On Thursday, May 3, in Manhattan Federal Court, the owner of a Park Avenue art gallery pled guilty to scamming clients out of their money with fake art deals.
49-year-old Ezra Chowaiki told the court all about his scheme to bait collectors and dealers from 2015 to 2017, into investing in the phony purchases of paintings by famous artists. He explained that he would collect money through empty promises, then keep the money for other things and never buy the art.
Judge Jed Rakoff was told by Chowaiki, “I knew that what I was doing was wrong and illegal. I’m terribly sorry.”
According to The Daily News, “Prosecutors said he also lured clients into entrusting expensive works of art for consignment — and then secretly sold the pieces. Chowaiki, who was arrested in December, reached a deal with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud. He also agreed to forfeit $16.6 million and 25 pieces of art. Under the deal, he is expected to receive 51 months to 63 months in prison. However, the judge still could impose a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars.”
Prosecutor Daniel Tracer told the judge that around half of the 25 works of forfeited art are currently in the government’s possession. The remaining, some of which are with collectors across the globe, are still trying to be tracked down by investigators.
In November, the once prestigious Chowaiki & Co. gallery that had displayed exhibits by legendary artists including Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall, went bankrupt.
By Rachel Shapiro